Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Educating children: parents’ primary right

April 20, 2023

In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis reminds us that “the overall education of children is a ‘most serious duty’ and at the same time a ‘primary right’ of parents.” He goes on to write that even though the state offers education, it does so in a subsidiary way, for parents have an “inalienable right … to choose freely the kind of education … which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions” (84).

While I am of course a strong supporter of Catholic education, I also support the many Catholic families who choose public schools for their children, and I strongly believe we need full funding for public education.

In fact, in 2017, the Catholic bishops of Illinois supported a more equitable method of funding public education through the Invest in Kids Act. That historic legislation also helped low-income families benefit from the Tax Credit Scholarship (TCS) program, enabling them to select the school that best meets the needs of their children. This is the kind of legislation that allows everybody to win. After four years, we can document that the act is working as the Illinois lawmakers intended.

Who are the families that benefit from the TCS program?

•     67% of scholarship recipients qualify for the federal free or reduced-price meal program.

•     One in nine scholarship recipients is a unique learner (special education needs, gifted or English language learner).

•     The average family household income of a scholarship recipient is $45,046, or 170% of the federal poverty level.

Who donates to the TCS program?

•     Since the Tax Credit Scholarship Program began, the program has raised more than $308 million statewide to support low-income families seeking non-public educations for their children. The most common donation is $1,000.

•     83% of donors indicated the Tax Credit Scholarship Program allowed them to increase their donations to schools, and 94% said they planned to give again.

We must act to build on this progress, for the Invest in Kids Act Tax Credit Scholarship Program expires soon. We can take heart in knowing that it has provided nearly 40,000 scholarships to low-income families. In fact, demand for the program is so strong that for every child granted a scholarship there are three students on a waiting list. We are committed to helping more families than ever this year.

Illinois lawmakers have an opportunity to build on the progress made in providing more educational opportunities, especially for students from our most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Please join me in urging our legislators to preserve the opportunities these scholarships have provided to children across the state. Let’s ensure that economic status doesn’t determine whether parents can send their kids to the schools that work best for them. Educating children is not just the duty of every parent. It is, as Pope Francis reminds us, their “primary right.”



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